Unlikely Marriages: An Examination of Customer-Visible Partnerships Between Prestige Brands and Mass-Market Distributors
The prestige goods industry is founded on exclusivity and premium pricing. The challengefor the industry is extracting that premium from the greatest possible number ofconsumers (the mass-market), while retaining the exclusivity that permits the extraction ofthat premium. Prestige / mass-market partnerships (PMMP) – one-off, co-brandedpartnerships between prestige designers and mass-market clothing retailers areincreasingly used by participants in the industry to negotiate that precarious balancebetween volume sales and premium pricing. Exclusivity is the key source of competitiveadvantage for prestige brands; that exclusivity would appear to be prima faciecompromised by undertaking a PMMP.A review of the literature in branding, strategy and organisational research, it was foundthat none of these schools would direct a prestige partner to undertake a PMMP. YetPMMPs persist and proliferate in the fashion industry. Either the prestige partners need anew strategy or researchers need a new paradigm, or both. The question is: which is it?This thesis has used a single case narrative to get inside a PMMP through the voice of thedesigner. It then provided three separate expert readings of that narrative. Those expertreadings were found to have some explanatory power in relation to PMMPs but wereunable to capture the rich tapestry of drivers on the prestige partner side. The dominantparadigms neglect the entrepreneur as a unit of analysis, over-rely on rational, linearmodels to explain a phenomenon that defies such categorization, and fail to appreciate thehighly-specific context of the prestige fashion industry.ivTo achieve this end, the literature on entrepreneurial opportunism was introduced. Fromthe prestige side, PMMPs can be conceived of as four related opportunity events – creative,business, learning and personal. Next, structuration theory was introduced as a means toanalyse the context surrounding PMMPs. It was found that the designers is bothconstrained and enabled by the prestige fashion context; some counter-orthodoxbehaviour is permitted, and indeed encouraged, but the limits of acceptability are stillclearly defined by the community of practitioners.To capture the interaction between the entrepreneur, the opportunity and the contextanalysis, a model of drivers based on Sahlman’s (1996) PCDO model was proposed. Thisthesis has found that the drivers motivating prestige designers to enter PMMPs aresignificantly more nuanced and less linear than convention structure-strategy analysesmight wish. Starting with the entrepreneur as the central unit of analysis is the mosteffective way to capture the range of drivers that stimulate a designer towards a PMMP.
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